"Save your receipts" may be the rule in the workplace for getting reimbursed for expenses, but those slips of paper are just so much trash to a college student.
That's what Drexel University student Bradley Ericson pondered as he observed transactions at the checkout counter at campus dining halls.
Students have a meal plan and tap it electronically by using their student identification card. But the cashier still hands over a printed piece of thermal paper. Soon after, that receipt winds up on the floor or counter.
A freshman at Drexel's LeBow College of Business in the fall of 2008, Ericson thought a digital receipt would be more convenient for the consumer. Digital receipts would also save money for the dining hall, which would not need to buy rolls of paper. That sounded to him like it could be the start of a business plan.
"The convenience factor is the most important," Ericson said. "I want to make my daily activities easier."
Today, Ericson has a company, called 3SecondReceipts L.L.C., that tested its software on Drexel servers this fall. (The name came from his research, which found a thermal-paper receipt has an "average life span" of only 3 seconds before it gets wadded up and tossed.)
It works like this: When the student's ID card gets swiped, it enables the dining hall to debit his or her meal plan tied to the student's identification number. Ericson's software hooks into the point-of-sale system and creates a digital receipt of the transaction that gets sent to buyer and seller. Students can log in to their campus accounts to see how much they spent and what they spent it on.
Ericson said he thought the digital receipt functionality would go "live" campuswide at Drexel in three or four months. If it performs for more than 21,000 students as well as he hopes, Ericson's next calls will be to Temple, Penn, and other area colleges.
Last spring, he became the first freshman to place in the Laurence A. Baiada Center's Business Plan Competition at Drexel. He didn't win it, but he came away with $1,000 as a finalist.
Losing that competition bothered him. He learned that while he had a good idea, that didn't make it a good business prospect. Ericson didn't go home to Fair Lawn, N.J., for summer break, but stayed in Philadelphia to work on his business plan.
Meanwhile, a different set of judges in another competition this week singled him out over many other entrepreneurs on campuses across the United States. Entrepreneur magazine Thursday named the Drexel sophomore its 2009 College Entrepreneur of the Year.
The designation provides 3SecondReceipts with $5,000 in seed capital and it gives Ericson some bragging rights with his three siblings.
After all, his brother Timothy started a firm in November 2007 when he was at Drexel. Today, CityRyde L.L.C. is a consulting firm in Philadelphia that helps universities and municipalities design and implement bike-sharing programs.
At 19, Bradley Ericson and his start-up story have already been featured on ABC News and in Forbes magazine. It will get retold in Entrepreneur magazine next month.